By Pauline Kerr
It seems every day brings news of another major organization or business that will be requiring its staff and/or members to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The latest groups calling for mandatory vaccination, or rigorous and regular testing of those unable to be vaccinated, include Ontario’s elementary school teachers’ union.
Among the first groups to have played hardball with vaccination requirements were the colleges and universities who made them mandatory for any students living in residences – understandable, considering the way the virus spread through such places early in the pandemic.
Health care has been slower to weigh in, although some families of residents in long-term care have been asking that their loved ones be cared for only by fully vaccinated staff. Again, this is an understandable response to the devastating path the virus cut through nursing and retirement homes. The delta variant is said to produce a much higher virus load in its victims, putting even vaccinated people at risk. While a very high percentage of residents of long-term care facilities are fully vaccinated, the same cannot be said of people who work in those homes, putting residents at an unfair risk.
Recent stories indicate Canadian health-care workers, especially personal support workers, have suffered a higher incidence of COVID-19 than those in other countries. Despite ample opportunities for vaccination, there are too many PSWs and other health-care workers who remain unvaccinated.
Many people contemplating a return to the workplace – not just health-care workers but those in factories, retail, warehouses and offices – have expressed apprehension about having to be in close proximity to people who may not be vaccinated. Some would prefer to continue working from home, but will be unable to. They are faced with a difficult decision. So are employers. Do they require vaccination and risk losing valuable employees, or stay with the status quo and risk the same thing?
On a personal level, families have been divided by the vaccination issue – whether or not to invite the unvaccinated to gatherings where there will be people who have health issues. Hosts planning an event can and do ask vaccination status before preparing the guest list. Many employers are starting to do the same, and more are likely to in the coming days.
A vaccination passport of sorts is considered a given by many of us who will be needing proof of our immunization status for employment or travel.
The question on a lot of minds is why governments are avoiding the topic of vaccination requirements like … well, the plague. For the most part, they seem to be protecting the rights of people to say no to the vaccine, even if it endangers those who cannot be vaccinated, for example, children under 12 and people with medical issues.
Instead, they promote educating people on the benefits and safety of the vaccine, and on the need for a high percentage of the population to be vaccinated in order for the pandemic to end.
Encouraging people to do the right thing while openly permitting them to something else sends a confusing message. It seems akin to strongly recommending people drive the speed limit or drive sober, while making it clear there is no penalty for driving at excessive speeds or while drunk, apart from the fact they are more likely to get killed in a collision.
For whatever reasons, our provincial and federal governments have backed off on making vaccination, and some sort of vaccination passport, legal requirements. However, the private sector has picked up the ball and is running with it.
The duty of an employer to take all reasonable measures to protect workers’ safety will undoubtedly end up before the courts, as will the right of a worker to decide not to get vaccinated.
There is a disturbing irony in the real possibility that in Ontario, one’s health in the face of a continuing deadly pandemic will not be decided by health-care officials or even by government, but by a judge who determines which legal team makes a more compelling argument.